Riding the waves: Lessons learnt from Victoria’s COVID-19 pandemic response for maintaining effective Allied Health student education and clinical placements

Mr Marcus Gardner1, Ms Sharon Downie2, Ms Joan Leo3, Ms Andrea Bramley4,8, Mr  Marcus Gardner5, Mr Rod Sturt6, Ms Donna Markham7

1Northern Health, Melbourne, Australia, 2Department of Health, Melbourne, Australia, 3Mercy Health, Melbourne, Australia, 4Monash Health, Melbourne, Australia, 5Bendigo Health, Bendigo, Australia, 6Alfred Health, Melbourne, Australia, 7Safer Care Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, 8La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia

Victoria was the Australian state most significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which caused significant disruption to Victorian health services.  The pandemic created risks for continuity of student learning and future allied health workforce supply. The aim of this case study is to describe the experience of the Victorian public health system in adapting to support allied health student education during the pandemic.  Factors that affected student education were complex and dynamic and included a decrease in traditional face-to-face learning opportunities due to a transition to telehealth, social distancing requirements, furlough of staff and travel restrictions.  Impacts on placement capacity across allied health professions were highly variable.  Strategies used to enable the continuation of student work integrated learning (also referred to as clinical placements or fieldwork) included an increase in remote placements and use of technology.   A focus on student well-being and a high level of problem-solving for health services were required to support student learning and enhanced communication between government and health services supported the rapid sharing of innovations.  At this time, the impacts on student preparedness for practice are unclear but may include deficits in interprofessional learning, clinical skills, increased levels of agility and enhanced resilience.  This case study highlights the need for the health system to be adaptable and innovative to maintain the quality of student education, and the future allied health workforce, through the pandemic and beyond.


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